Southport-Oak Island-Bald Head Island NC Sailing & Activities Guide

Southport NC is a small coastal town with a big heart. We recently sailed to Southport and stayed at the South Harbor Village Marina for a couple months. We enjoyed picture perfect beaches nearby at Bald Head Island and Oak Island, places to swim and surf, pretty marshes to explore, tasty seafood shops, and restaurants with plenty of character. If you plan on visiting, use our guide to help plan your stay.

Broken Ribs, Boat Crash and Sailing in Southport, BaldHead, and Oak Islands - EP30

In the Summer of 2019, we decided to sail our boat north where it would stay for a couple months. North Carolina that is. Our usual spot in South Carolina gets very hot in July and August, so we headed up to Southport NC, which is still a reasonable drive from Charlotte for our weekend getaways.

We sailed away from Bohicket Marina at 4 AM Monday morning to catch the outgoing tide and current. We did motor sail for most of the day, as we had a short weather window to get there. We had calm seas and super peaceful beautiful blue waters offshore. As expected, the night winds picked up substantially (15 knots with gusts to 25) and we were able to turn the motors off during our overnight watches (really helps the sleep situation). There were storms all around us, but no rain.

We arrived at the Cape Fear channel 8:30 AM as we expected and had no problems navigating to our slip on the face dock at South Harbor Village Marina. Yes, Cape Fear is a real place – beyond the Cape Fear movie.  There was one electrical wire we needed to pass under which was marked at 76ft on the chart, but we were told it was actually 90. Since our mast is 75ft, we proceeded cautiously and had plenty of air above our mast. This was our first electrical wire crossing so we were nervous as could be!

We received a super friendly greeting from the Marina staff, restaurant recommendations, and boat service information. They even offered cable tv hookups.

Wednesday, we enjoyed Bald Head Island for the day. (named after how it looks from the ocean)

Thursday, our Ship’s Engineer arrived for some solar/lithium upgrade planning, helped us work on the boat tasks, and Friday, we went for a day sail.

Saturday, we had friends arrive for a day sail – their first time!

After a week of exploring, we left PILAR on Sunday to return home and back to the jobs.

There is plenty to do for a couple of weeks in Southport. Cape Fear Channel can be rough, so make sure when you go out that winds and current are light, or at least you have them pushing you out the channel.

  1. Bald Head Island – Dinghy over to Bald Head Island and tie up at the Bald Head Marina (VHF for space assignment). No cars allowed! Rent a golf cart or bikes at the marina and spend the day exploring. Plenty of beach stops to relax, swim or catch a little surf on the east side of island, a few hiking trails to choose from, middle island shops and café, Old Baldy lighthouse, do some light fishing at the boat launch site, and explore the beautiful homes along the shores. Dine at one of the Marina area restaurants before returning to your boat. (your choice to dinghy from your marina or you can anchor nearby – anchor spot is marked on charts).
  2. Southport Town – Spend a day in town and see the museum, as well as few remaining art galleries. There used to be more but gradually they closed down. You can dinghy dock by area restaurants as long as you plan on dining there.
  3. Salt Water Marshes – Dinghy around the areas marshes and fish, swim and enjoy the views. Just stay out of the channel that goes towards the Coast Guard facility! We saw others fishing and thought it would be okay to explore there but found out quickly that we would soon be met with armed officers if we did not turn around.
  4. Zeke’s Island, a National Estuarine Research and Nature Reserve – one of the most unusual areas of the North Carolina coast.
  5. Fort Fisher State Recreation area, nearly six miles of pristine beach and trails through salt marsh brimming with wildlife, a park touching both the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, Civil War historic site, and aquarium. We did not get to experience this due to Hurricane Dorian’s arrival, but it is highly recommended by a local. There is a good anchor spot nearby (check the charts).
  6. Sail down the Cape Fear River to Carolina State Park and take it all the way to Wilmington! Be sure to look for the venus fly trap carnivorous plants, unique to the area.  Be prepared to anchor for the night so you can catch the tide right to return.
  7. Frying Pan Lighthouse – Give yourself plenty of room around Frying Pan Shoals, but you could sail and anchor by Frying Pan Lighthouse (40 ft depth). Great diving there if you scuba.
  8. Oak Island – If the wind is right, sail south and see the beautiful homes and beaches of Oak Island. Otherwise, drive over and visit the beaches. We spent time at Caswell Beach and had a great view of the Southport Lighthouse.
  9. Southport Food & Dining Recommendations – South Harbor Village has some of the best dining options in the Southport area within walking distance.

Broken Ribs from a Broken Dinghy Winch Line

On our second trip to visit Southport, we arrived on Friday night and I started to cook dinner. All of a sudden, I hear the dinghy crash and a splash! I quickly ran out to find Stephen in the water, next to the dinghy. No tears, no screams – but he was just holding on to the sugar scoop the best he could. One of our boat neighbors heard the commotion as well and ran over to help me get Stephen out of the water.

What had happened? Stephen was getting something out of the dinghy, and the winch line broke. Down went the dinghy, and down went Stephen, his chest landing on the motor, before he fell into the water. Close call. Stephen did not want to go to the doctor, but after dinner, with the pain worsening, I convinced him.

We spent the next few hours in the Southport Hospital. Diagnosis confirmed – two broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung. Nothing can be done to speed healing except rest, painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicine.

As you can imagine, the rest of the weekend was spent just chilling.  We did get over to Oak Island and enjoyed walking along Caswell Beach.

Labor Day Sailing with Dorian (the Hurricane that is)

Our third trip was Labor Day Weekend. We arrived Friday night with plans for a restful long weekend to heal Stephen’s ribs. Plans changed. Read our post Escaping Hurricane Dorian for the full story.